'SpongeBob SquarePants' Creator Stephen Hillenburg Dead at 57

'SpongeBob SquarePants' Creator Stephen Hillenburg Dead at 57
Stephen Hillenburg — a former biology teacher, cartoonist and animator known best as the creator of Nickelodeon series SpongeBob SquarePants — has passed away following a battle with ALS. He was 57.

News of Hillenburg's passing was confirmed by Nickelodeon today, with the network writing on Twitter that they "are observing a moment of silence to honor his life and work."

"We are incredibly saddened by the news that Steve Hillenburg has passed away following a battle with ALS," the network said in a statement. "He was a beloved friend and long-time creative partner to everyone at Nickelodeon, and our hearts go out to his entire family.

"Steve imbued SpongeBob SquarePants with a unique sense of humor and innocence that has brought joy to generations of kids and families everywhere. His utterly original characters and the world of Bikini Bottom will long stand as a reminder of the value of optimism, friendship and the limitless power of imagination."

Hillenburg revealed his ALS diagnosis in March last year, telling Variety, "I wanted people to hear directly from me that I have been diagnosed with ALS. Anyone who knows me knows that I will continue to work on SpongeBob SquarePants and my other passions for as long as I am able. My family and I are grateful for the outpouring of love and support. We ask that our sincere request for privacy be honoured during this time."

Born in Lawton, Oklahoma, Hillenburg graduated from California's Humboldt State University in 1984 with a bachelor's degree in natural resource planning and interpretation, with emphasis on marine resources. 

While teaching marine biology at the Ocean Institute in Dana Point that same year, Hillenburg's interest in art led him to write and illustrate educational comic books about tidal pools for his students.

Hillenburg left teaching in 1987 to enrol in the experimental animation program at California Institute of the Arts in 1989. His first animated works, a pair of short films titled The Green Beret and Wormholes, arrived in 1992. The latter title won the award for Best Concept at the Ottawa International Animation Festival.

Hillenburg got his start at Nickelodeon in 1993, writing and directing for the network's first in-house cartoon Rocko's Modern Life. During production of the show, he was encouraged by writer Martin Olson to create a show with a similar concept to his earlier comic books.

The first episode of SpongeBob SquarePants aired on Nickelodeon May 1, 1999, beginning its full first season run on July 17 of that year. To date, the series has aired over 200 episodes, with its twelfth season having started earlier this month.

SpongeBob has also made it to the big screen twice: first with 2004's The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie, which was followed by The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water in 2015. Earlier this year, a third movie had been set for a July 17, 2020 release by Paramount.